How to understand and deal with terrorism

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If we continue to create a world where there is poverty and disrespect,
there will continue to be terrorism.

~Jodie Evans~

Lately, it has become common to associate terrorism with religious groups, particularly radical extremists within Islam. Ben Norton quotes Max Abrahms’ observation that scholars have traditionally conceived of terrorism as, “a political communication strategy in which groups use violence to amplify their grievances and the costs to the target countries of ignoring them.” He notes that no one claims responsibility for the majority of terrorist attacks unless they have something to gain from it politically.

Abrahms notes that terrorist groups are not acting with a common motivation. He sees these groups as varying significantly. He also cites differences in motivation between the leaders of such groups and those actually carrying out the terrorist acts.

Daniel Pipes writes in an article in the New York Sun that at one time terrorists generally noted their goals such as the release of imprisoned members of their groups. In more recent times, demands are not usually made before acting and terrorist attacks take place without any announcement of what the terrorists are aiming to accomplish. He suggests possible motivations such as personal grievances of individual terrorists related to their anger about poverty, cultural alienation or prejudice, and attempts to get various governments to change their policies. Lately, a major goal has been the establishment of a caliphate, although it is unclear what that would actually mean if the goal was met.

It is easy to forget the role of our country in creating terrorist movements. In the case of ISIS, the United States and other Western powers–probably unintentionally–destabilized the government of Iraq through misguided intervention and left a power vacuum and lack of leadership as well as warring factions. This in turn created fertile ground for the roots of ISIS to take hold.

There is no easy solution to dealing with ISIS or other terrorist organizations. Their leaders are bent on destroying the influence of the “devil” United States in the Middle East. Reasoning with them does not appear to be a promising strategy.

Many of those at the bottom of terrorist ranks who actually carry out the terrorist attacks are alienated individuals who see life as holding no future for them, at least on Earth. These people tend to escape our notice, much as do youths with potential violence in their future in our own country.

Tori DeAngelis suggests characteristics of potential recruits to terrorist organizations stated by John Horgan, director of the Pennsylvania State University Center for the Study of Terrorism:

  • Feeling angry, alienated or disenfranchised
  • Believing that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change
  • Identifying with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting
  • Feeling the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem
  • Believing that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral
  • Having friends or family sympathetic to the cause
  • Believing that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity

As a world society, it is our challenge to identify these people, understand their frustrations, and help them see more constructive alternatives. This is a big order one more humane than trying to destroy everyone with such leanings.

Joanne Bourke in her book, Deep Violence, says, “Evidence suggests that killing leaders of terrorist organizations pushes those groups into becoming more aggressive, in part by fueling fury about the power of Western nations such as the US.” This piece of wisdom should humble us and remind us that we are not all powerful.

DeAngelis suggests that there are several promising avenues of approach to changing the “hearts and minds of terrorist detainees.” These include:

  • Engaging moderate Muslim clerics to work with them focusing on the “true teachings of the Qur’an” about jihad and violence
  • Showing authentic concern about their families through real life programs to improve their family functioning
  • Engaging reformed former terrorists in efforts to help others understand that “violence against civilians compromises the image of Islam”

Before such efforts can lead to success, those working with captured terrorists must first manage their own perceptions and emotions about the people with whom they work, looking beyond their initial reactions. Next, let’s take a look at violence in our culture not related to terrorism.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose “Look Inside.”)

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How do I start to understand violence?

To cure the violence, we must identify and heal the causes of hatred and violence.
If we don’t deal with the causes we will never be safe.
~Peter Yarrow~
The term random violence suggests that there is no explanation for such acts which have become all too commonplace recently. Acceptance that there is no explanation implies that that there is nothing we can do about it. The approach of placing more guns in the hands of civilians has been promoted as one possible solution although it sounds scary to me.
​​​​​​​Commentators and others have scratched their heads trying to clarify the reasons for this violence. Among the possibilities are parenting styles, the effects of mental illness, the proliferation of guns, violent video games, media sensationalism and violent lyrics in music. We would like to find a reason for the violence which does not include our own culture and attack the problem as lying outside us.
What if the reasons lie within the culture of which we are a part? Then the search becomes uncomfortable. We would need to examine our own thoughts and emotions as people living in this culture.
In his article, The Autogenic Massacre, P. E. Mullen reminds us that guns and violent revolution formed one basis for founding the United States. He also revises a well known slogan to read “Guns don’t kill people, but people kill people with guns.” He notes that many popular movies glorify gun violence. Most people do not use guns to actually protect themselves. Most seldom have the intention of murdering others. Yet some people do have such motivations and some become mass murderers.
Mental illness is often seen as an explanation or in common words, “He must be crazy!” For the most part it is a “he.” Violent attacks are much more likely to be carried out by men than by women. The result of this kind of thinking is to identify and isolate these mentally ill individuals from mainstream society. Yet the mentally ill are far more commonly the victims of violence than they are perpetrators of violence.
Attempts to clarify which traits predict violence have been largely unsuccessful and tend to include people with moderate or little risk of becoming violent. The great majority of mass killers are white males, but no other characteristics are helpful in defining who is likely to become violent. They are not clearly psychotic, delusional, crazy or insane.
Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University, has listed the features most relevant to mass shooters. They include antisocial traits, depressed mood, recent loss and perception that others are to blame for their problems.
He sees these risk factors as common to violent adults as well as children. Yet these are not mental illnesses in themselves. They imply unwanted emotions and difficulty coping with challenges and life events which we all face from time to time.
Mullen suggests that mass murderers may not differ from the rest of us in how they think or feel. They may just differ in the degree to which they experience feelings such as rage and motivations like revenge.
Another factor might be an exaggerated sense of entitlement which fuels rage in certain people when their expectations are not met by society. Other people disposed toward violence often feel marginalized by society, also leading them to anger, rage and feelings of wanting revenge.
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Trying to isolate such individuals and punishing them for their emotions only increases their sense of isolation and pent-up rage. As we saw when we discussed the criminal justice system, another approach would be to try reaching such individuals before they become hardened into seeing violence as their only alternative. Such an approach would not be easy, and it also goes against the vigilante or cowboy thinking of many people these days. Yet it promises a much more productive way of going about making lasting changes.

How do I get my body to be at peace?

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How do you get your body to be at peace and in harmony? Once you see the answers to this question, they might seem like common sense. Unfortunately we do not always use common sense in our approach to our bodies. Sometimes we take partial or baby steps. That’s a good start, but the more you understand about your body’s needs and the more you treat your body kindly, the more at peace you will find yourself.
What does a peaceful body look like? On the surface your brow is smooth and not wrinkled in distress. Your face is calm; your hands are relaxed and your fists are not clenched. You stand straight and are not stooped over under the weight of your daily stress.
Looking inside, your bloodstream is distributing nourishment and collecting waste and not chronically clogged with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As we saw before, these hormones serve a useful purpose in preparing you for approaching danger and shutting down regular functions of your body not specifically needed to fight stress.
This is fine when your body is under attack, and you need to defend yourself or get you out of harm’s way. Yet immediate threats pass fairly quickly, and your body hopefully returns to a more relaxed and peaceful state. When you are constantly beset by worrisome thoughts, emotions or both, your body stays in a state of high alert preventing you from feeling at peace and eventually exhausting you and keeping you from living a productive life. Your body, mind, emotions and spirit are all interconnected.
Your blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate all rise when you are in a state of stress or anxiety and become lower when your body is at peace. When you are peaceful, you have more energy to use in constructive activities rather that spending it all fighting stress.
Once you get stress out of your life, you will find that in addition to more energy you will a better appetite and better digestion. Rather than finding natural ways to achieve peace within your body, you might be tempted to seek the help of prescription drugs, alcohol or street drugs as a way to compensate for the unrest inside you. Chemical approaches can be helpful at times. Yet better long-term results can be found by considering changes in the way you live your life. What changes? That’s a long story which I will get to another time.

How do I find peace in my life?

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Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

~Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~

When we think of peace, we tend to focus on what it is not. Peace is not being in conflict with others or within ourselves. It means not being at war. This is part of it. We have an idea about what we don’t want. Yet it is possible to not be at war or in conflict with anyone and still not be at peace. Sound strange? It’s not if you consider peace as more than the absence of conflict.

Here is the definition of peace proposed by the Christophe Barbey for the Institute for the Progress of Peace, “Peace is part of human dignity. It is living in, as well as the right and the duty to live in, to prepare, to maintain or to restore a creative state of permanent harmony amongst all.”

In this sense, peace is not a construct or an invention of people or governments. Peace is part of the recognition that human life is worthy of respect and that we all share in a sense of dignity just by being born human.

Of course, people have not always viewed their fellow humans with dignity. Throughout history, various groups of humans have been viewed as possessions or objects to be bought, sold and used with impunity as we might do with any other possession. In some countries, only certain people are allowed to vote. Others are not seen as full citizens.

By viewing everyone with the same human dignity shared by the rest of us, we necessarily change the way we look at each other. No one is beneath us, less a citizen, without rights or unworthy to be included in the discussion about how we conduct ourselves locally or globally.

We all have the same dignity and should respect this dignity in each other. When we define peace in this way, we learn to approach each other with generosity, empathy, common sense and non-violence.

 Looking at peace this way is certainly not part of how some people and some nations approach each other in current times. It has been the exception rather than the rule throughout recorded history and perhaps before then. Yet it can be a goal for the future and would be to the benefit of all of us, presenting a healthy alternative to destroying or controlling each other for our own selfish purposes.

Most people who pray at all pray for peace on Earth. Maybe we think God will bring us this peace. We have had times of peace but frequently return to times when peace seems out of reach. Is that God’s fault? I don’t think so. God has left peace as something for us to earn. Sadly, we are often preoccupied with getting what we want for ourselves rather than working together toward what would benefit us all. Our journey toward peace starts with ourselves. Let’s get started on that journey.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose Look Inside.)

What Do Teens Like Best about Themselves?

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Teens like a wide variety of things about themselves. Being able to entertain friends or having a nice personality come to mind for several of the teens I talked with. If you are fun to be around, you will be popular and never lacking for company. Did you ever wonder what makes you attractive to others? It’s not so much what you look like. Being very pretty or handsome might even make others jealous.

A researcher in the nineteen sixties studied what people look for in a friend. The number one quality is being able to listen. If you can keep your mouth shut when you need to, hear what someone is saying, and understand how that person feels, you will be very much in demand. As Amy puts it, “I have the ability to put myself in others’ shoes.”

Some see their sense of themselves as their best quality. Ellie says, “I know who I am and stick with my values.” This is not always easy to do. You have to think about what’s important to you and decide that what you believe in is more important than making others happy.

Did you know it’s impossible to keep everyone happy? No matter what you do, there will be some people who like what you do and others who don’t. If you follow your own sense of values, you will attract friends who respect what you believe in. You probably wouldn’t enjoy the company of others who don’t share your values anyway.

Can you imagine having a friend who changes his or her mind all the time? Maybe you have a friend like this. You never know what to expect and probably wouldn’t be able to count on that person for anything important. Being consistent in your values makes it easier for you to decide what to do when something really important happens. It also helps your friends know what to expect from you. Consistency is probably the most important quality of a good friend after being a good listener.

Other teens like their physical qualities such as their appearance or sports ability. As with personality, these might be just as much a reason for others to be jealous as to like you. However, what is important is that your physical appearance or sports ability might give you some confidence which you might not otherwise have. Your self confidence just might attract others more than your special abilities or appearance.

Sometimes it is not so easy to choose one quality you like best about yourself. Punkman sees his grades and willingness to help others who need him as tied for his best qualities. This is not surprising. Most teens have several things they like about themselves. Did you know it’s easier to think of things you don’t like about yourself than things you do like? When I asked teens and adults in counseling to make two lists, the list of dislikes is usually longer than the list of likes. Maybe people tend to take their good qualities for granted.

(Excerpt from my book, Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It. Read a free sample by clicking on this sentence and choosing Look Inside.)

 

My Profession of Vows

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The Provincial had selected my Uncle Bob to receive our vows as well as to give our Profession retreat. He would preside over the Vestition and Profession ceremonies in Father Provincial’s place. I was impressed by his quiet appreciation of our faith and of our way of life. I was also happy that he had a chance to preach as he had always wanted to do.

After the Vestition ceremony and a meal of celebration, I had a chance to walk in the monastery garden with my uncle and talk with him a little about the novitiate. “Over the past year, I have had to change my life almost completely. I don’t feel like the same person I was a year ago.”

“You’re not. You have given yourself to God and have let go of your own desires. You will be following God’s will from now on in everything you do.”

“Right now that doesn’t sound too hard. I wonder if I will have trouble with it when there is something I really want to do.”

“No doubt. Everyone has times like that. It is a trial of faith which makes us stronger.”

“I have read about such trials in the lives of the saints. I hope I am strong enough to face them, whatever they are for me.”

“That’s why you have a community to live in. You don’t have to face anything alone.”

My uncle was an intelligent, thoughtful and wise man who also had a good sense of humor. In contrast to my father’s family, most of whom were quite serious and quick to annoyance and harsh words, Uncle Bob was always the voice of reason and was able to use his humor to diffuse any conflict.

He was present at all the major events in my life. He had married my parents before I was born. He baptized me. He was present at my First Communion where I thought he was a visitor. When it was time for me to receive communion, he came down from the altar, gave me communion and then returned while our pastor finished. He was here now to help me with my next major step in life.

I told God I was as ready as I ever would be to take the next step. I knew I was not perfect, but I didn’t think he expected me to be. I promised to do the best I could to follow the religious way of life and live my life the way He wanted me to. I told Him I could not do it on my own and asked again for His guidance.

We entered the monastery church for Profession of Vows in a solemn procession, the newly vested novices singing hymns from behind the altar. I saw my parents, three brothers and sister sitting near the front of the church. Most of the ceremony was a blur to me as I focused on the commitment I was making. The religious community prayed over us. Confrater Gary’s uncle preached a sermon outlining the life we had chosen and the meaning of our vows. Father Augustine Paul served as master of ceremonies. Confrater Daniel’s and Confrater David’s brothers, Bernard and Claude, assisted as ministers for the ceremony.

As at our Vestition, each of us climbed the altar steps and approached a chair in the center of the landing in front of the altar, this time occupied by my uncle. We knelt one at a time before him and placed our folded hands in his hands to signify our connection with the Passionist Order, with my uncle as Father Provincial’s representative and ultimately God’s.

As we knelt, we professed that we would follow each of the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as the fourth vow of promotion of the Passion of Jesus.  We said all of this aloud. At the end we whispered, “…for three years.” Temporary vows were a chance to try out the religious life without a permanent commitment. If we decided not to continue in the religious life, we could request release from our vows any time during the three years. If we decided to continue in the religious life, we would take permanent vows. If someone still was not sure of a permanent commitment, he could renew his temporary vows. If someone later decided to leave the religious life, he could request release from permanent vows, but only by petition to Rome.

(Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. For a free sample click on the title and choose Look Inside on the Amazon book page.

 

Thanksgiving in August

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 Although I regularly write a gratitude list in my journal, I have taken my eyes for granted. Last week I went for my annual eye exam. All went well until the end when Dr. Parsons discovered a possible a detached retina. He sent me immediately to Dr. Connolly, a retinal specialist in Rochester, who confirmed that I had a detached retina and scheduled me for surgery the next day.

I arrived at the Brighton Surgery Center in somewhat of a daze and rather nervous as you might imagine. I received wonderful care from the staff including Julie, Rita, Eric, Jillian and Ray as well as others. I left with a gas bubble in my eye to hold the retina in place while it reattaches. My post-­op recovery has so far been uneventful and I am being patient with my eye as it heals.

I was scheduled for jury duty last week. If I had ended up serving, I would have had to cancel my eye exam. Who knows when the detachment would have finally been discovered? Not attending to a detached retina can result in blindness.

Among the uncertainties, confusion, chaos and disasters of the recent past, I am most grateful to God for leading me back to the path of wellness, to Carol my lover and nurse, and to my medical team mentioned above.

What are you grateful for today?